|Paul and King Agrippa
May 18, 1997 / Acts 25:13 — 26:32
How do you handle frustrations? Everybody has them.
If you were a singer, what would frustrate you more than anything else? Wouldn’t it be losing the ability to sing?
Suppose you were a carpenter. What would be your greatest frustration? What if you had all your tools stolen? Or lost a hand? Or couldn’t support your family in that industry and had to take a job as a restaurant chef or taxi driver?
Suppose you were a missionary and believed the calling of God on your life was to carry the gospel to people from other cultures, language groups, or ethnic backgrounds? Wouldn’t your greatest frustration be having to abandon that work? Having your passport revoked? Being forced to "stay home" because of health problems? Having to support yourself and your family by singing, being a carpenter, or working as a computer programmer?
Paul was a missionary — a frustrated one during certain periods of his life. Yet his frustration never comes through his writings or behavior. In fact, it was during one of those periods of enforced non-missionary labors that he wrote this to some friends: "I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Phil. 4:10-11).
How can a "frustrated missionary" be something other than frustrated? How can someone today who is working at a job or career outside his or her primary area of interest be content? How can someone who had been cheated by life be happy — and communicate joy rather than bitterness to family and friends? How can someone living a Plan-B Life have the satisfaction he or she thought was destined to come only through his or her Plan A?
The answer that most naturally suggests itself to me is that frustration will give way to joy only when someone is convinced that the new circumstance is somehow capable of fulfilling God’s will for his or her life. The singer becomes a writer. The carpenter works his way from restaurant cook to manager to owner. The school teacher who is programming computers creates a new educational program that will be used in thousands of classrooms. Or the frustrated missionary discovers that God intends for his audience to be different from the one he had chosen.
Paul’s New Audience
Paul had been arrested at Jerusalem, moved to Caesarea for his own protection, and left to rot in jail. Two years later, he exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his imprisonment. He petitioned Caesar, and arrangements began to be made to transfer him to the Imperial City for trial.
What charges would Festus send with Paul? What would be the particulars of the indictment against this Christian missionary? He considered it a stroke of good fortune that Herod Agrippa II came to Caesarea for a welcome-to-this-part-of-the-world visit. With Festus only recently appointed as Roman procurator of Judea, Agrippa had come down to meet and to try to ingratiate himself to the more powerful Roman official. His own little "kingdom" adjoined Judea, and he needed to court friendly relations with Festus.
Festus explained to King Agrippa that he had been "at a loss how to investigate" Paul’s case (Acts 25:20) because he didn’t understand the Jewish religion. Whether out of personal curiosity or simply as a courtesy to Festus, Agrippa agreed to meet Paul, hear his story, and try to sort out the specifics of what was going on in his case. So arrangements were made for a hearing: "The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking offices and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charged against him.’ The Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself’" (25:23 — 26:1a).
The Babylonian Talmud tells us that Cypros, Agrippa’s mother, had taken an intense interest in the religion of the Jews. Although she was not Jewish, she studied the Hebrew religion. Perhaps she had coached her son to learn some things about it. Perhaps he had followed his mother’s interest at a more personal level. At any rate, Paul said, "King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen patiently" (26:1b-3).
At that, Paul began telling the story of his conversion. As always, however, what he said was much more than a defense of his own innocence or the retelling of his personal religious experience. It was a powerful synopsis of the gospel message. He insisted that belief in a risen, divine Christ is the heart of the Christian faith and that the message of salvation through Christ is for the entire human race.
To Paul’s sermon, Festus — who doubtless was at a loss to understand Paul’s references to the Hebrew Bible — responded with impatience: "You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning [in Scripture] is driving you insane" (26:24). But Paul was not really talking to Festus that day, so he turned to King Agrippa — the one man present who knew enough of the Word of God to make sense of what Paul was trying to explain. "I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do" (26:25-27).
Agrippa appears to have been embarrassed by Paul’s direct address. He responded cynically and hatefully to say, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" (26:28). Paul could only reply, "Short time or long — I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains" (26:29). What passion there is in his statement. What clarity of insight. What spiritual focus.
Agrippa and Festus conferred privately and agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of death. Yet the missionary would have to go to Rome as a prisoner because of the appeal to Caesar already on the books. So Paul the frustrated missionary would remain a prisoner for two more years. How could he deal with it?
Paul would discover that God had people for him to meet and with whom he was to share Christ who were on nobody’s missionary circuit! He would share Jesus with other prisoners. He would tell Roman soldiers the story of salvation. He would preach at Malta 28:1-10). He would convert some of the guards chained to him during a two-year house arrest at Rome (cf. Phil. 4:22).
What does a frustrated missionary do when his missionary work is taken from him? He asks God to show him how to make the most of his new environment for the communication of the gospel.
A Modern Version of the Story
Eugenio and Lori Nij — he goes by "Queno" in his own country — are missionaries to Guatemala for the Church of God. They have been in that country for over a decade now, and he ministers to a church in San Raymundo. He has also established a free school and orphanage in the city.
On March 5, 1997, a mob in San Raymundo broke into a police facility, beat one woman to death, and left another seriously wounded. Onlookers say the two women had tried to steal a baby. The women allegedly snatched a baby from its mother’s arms and were running toward a waiting car when local shopkeepers heard screams and stopped the women. Two men in the getaway car escaped.
Fearing a riot, the police sent for Queno — a highly respected man in the town where he was born and where he now preaches the gospel — to try to calm the crowd. He persuaded the mob to let the police arrest the women and bring them to trial. He then returned to his school which is some five miles out of town. A mob of irate villagers stormed the jail later that day, beating the two women with sticks, rocks, and cement blocks. The villagers’ anger may be explained in part by the fact that an eleven-year-old girl had been kidnaped and held for ransom a week before. The entire village helped pay the ransom, only to find the young girl raped and murdered.
Incredibly, Queno was arrested on March 25 and charged with murder in connection with the attack on the women! The 39-year-old missionary was charged with inciting the riot resulting in the death of one of the alleged baby-snatchers. Over 300 witnesses have since given sworn statements that Queno was not even present when the riot occurred. But he remains in the Federal Prison in Guatemala City. His case has become a national cause celebre, with Catholic, Baptist, and Pentecostal Churches fasting and praying for his safety and for his release. Some are holding 24-hour prayer vigils on his behalf. National newspapers are following the story daily.
He has been using his time there to preach Jesus. The head of the prison "Mafia" has reportedly been converted to Christ, along with several guards. Lori has been told by a number of prisoners that they had been praying for God to send someone among them to minister in the prison. On a day when Lori was detained getting to the jail with Queno’s food (prisoners’ families have to provide them the one meal a day they receive!), the other prisoners fed him from their meager rations. "Since you are feeding us the bread of life," they said, "it is right that we give you this bread from our plates."
Several days after Queno’s arrest, Lori was in an incredibly long line waiting for her turn to visit in the prison. The line was moving so slowly that she asked one of the guards why it was taking so long to get in. He explained that it was because the inmates were all taking their families to meet "the preacher." Each was telling his wife and children, "You have to meet this man who has changed my life. He knows God, and he told his God about me. And he said his God will forgive me!" Lori said that she then dropped her head and prayed, "God, I can wait."
Neither Queno nor Paul prayed to be arrested, put in jail, and subjected to the indignities that go with such a situation. But Queno — who was still in prison last night because of the slowness and corruption of Guatemalan "justice" — has told his wife, "Lori, don’t be afraid. The Lord has a job for me, and I cannot leave here until I have completed it."
What does a frustrated missionary do when his plans, travel itinerary, and church-planting strategies are interrupted? He looks for a way to honor the Lord where he is. He looks for the job the Lord wants done in his new surroundings. That is what faithfulness is — often carrying out a Plan-B Strategy instead of whining that Plan A wasn’t permitted to materialize.
A single mother raising a baby alone is a Plan B. But her faithfulness in rearing that child to know the Lord and to walk before him in holiness is a calling from God.
A family that loses an income and a house because of company "downsizing" is surely living its Plan B. The faithfulness of that family in praising the Lord during its pain is faithfulness.
A man who loses his sight, a woman who has been the victim of an assault, someone whose mate dies, a man or woman trying to hold a shaky marriage together for the sake of children — these are all versions of Plan-B Lives where God’s will is being sought under less-than-ideal circumstances and in which faithfulness means following the Lord through trying, painful times.
If you are in one of those Plan-B Situations, don’t whine. Pray for God to show you how it is to be used for his glory. He will not turn a deaf ear to your prayer.
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